It hasn’t been an easy road for LUNG FORCE Hero Renata C, but despite numerous setbacks, she has always refused to surrender to her lung cancer diagnosis. Recently she has set her sights on another fight, the one against lung cancer stigma. “I think it’s time for people to eliminate the stigma that lung cancer is a smoker’s disease and only affects people over 65. The truth is, it can strike anyone and there are so many other causes,” she said.
She knows this from first-hand experience.
At age 50, over a decade younger than the average lung cancer patient, Renata was diagnosed with stage III non-small cell lung cancer and given a survival rate of less than five years. She had just visited her doctor to discuss her allergies when her whole life got turned upside down.
“I was filling my allergy prescriptions at the hospital clinic when my doctor called me and told me that I needed to come back in for a CT scan. The results suggested that I may have a blood clot but after being admitted to the ER and receiving a myriad of tests, it was determined it was cancer,” she explained.
Searching for answers, her doctors questioned her about whether or not she had a smoking history. Though she has smoked on and off when she was younger, the doctor explained that Renata’s lungs weren't discolored like a typical smoker, leading him to believe that the cancer wasn’t caused by smoking, but by some other unknown factor.
Her family had some history with the devastating disease when her father passed away at just 47 from inoperable lung cancer. But Renata was determined to beat the odds. “My life completely changed. Every weekday I went for radiation after work, a total of 33 treatments. I leaned on my sarcastic sense of humor to keep me sane, she said. For example, Renata would post funny cartoons on Facebook like of someone dancing with an IV pole to bring some levity to her situation.
In 2016, Renata’s friends Kristen, Kim and Michelle walked in her honor at a LUNG FORCE Walk in California. The next year, after receiving clear scans, Renata joined them. “It was an eye-opening experience seeing all the survivors working together to raise awareness and funds to fight this deadly disease,” she said.
But in 2018, her health problems returned when blurry vision landed Renata back in the doctor’s office. An array of tests, X-rays and brain scans would lead to the heartbreaking news that not only did she have a detached retina in her left eye, but there were lesions in her right temporal lobe caused by a metastasis of her lung cancer. After a few years of almost normalcy, her cancer had progressed to stage IV.
“Though they promised to do everything they could, I was told I may only have a year left. I was determined to keep fighting so I went to see a doctor who fitted me for a focused radiation mask. After three high-dose treatments we saw some improvement, the tumor had begun to shrink,” she explained.
“I lean into my family and close friends for support. I also joined an online support group for lung cancer patients and their families where we share our experiences, what to expect during treatment. We pray together, for each of us to make it through,” she said. It was through this group that she finally got the courage to share her story with the world. “People just don’t talk about lung cancer the way they talk about other cancers, because I think they’re afraid people think, ‘you did it to yourself, it’s your fault.’ But it’s not your fault. I want people to understand they need to listen to their body and get tested even if they think they’re being paranoid."
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic necessitating many local LUNG FORCE events take place virtually, Renata was determined to continue her involvement in the annual Louisville LUNG FORCE Walk. She recruited the help of her friends and family to raise funds and awareness online, and then she and her son donned turquoise t-shirts and walked around the town. “We laughed and talked, and he steadied me when I felt wobbly. Despite the unexpected setback, we accomplished our objectives by raising money and awareness. In fact, I raised the most of any individual in Kentucky and I couldn't be prouder or more thankful,” Renata exclaimed.
Renata admits that staying positive is a constant struggle as she still has little energy most days and even the simplest things can be difficult. But she will be the first to tell you that she feels beyond blessed to still be alive. “As to where I go from here; the possibilities are endless. I am enjoying spending as much time with my family as I can, making lasting memories.”
Thank you to Renata for her efforts to reduce lung cancer stigma by raising awareness and much needed research funds.
Blog last updated: August 31, 2020